By Glenn Guilbeau / GANNETT LOUISIANA
BATON ROUGE – Former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger had been on a roll since having surgery following a knee injury in the Tigers’ regular season finale last year.
He had an excellent Pro Day at LSU last month and has been widely considered to be a second round selection.
On Monday morning, quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. called Mettenberger’s arm the best in the NFL Draft, which starts at 7 p.m. Thursday and will run through Saturday on ESPN and the NFL Network.
“When you want a strong arm when we’re building the perfect quarterback, we need a guy who can make the defense defend the depth and width of the football field, and that’s Mettenberger,” Whitfield said on ESPN. “This guy is vicious. He can make all the throws, especially when he gets settled down in the pocket. He’s going to be tough for premier corners in the NFL to defend.”
On Monday night, however, Fox Sports broke a story that Mettenberger had a positive test last February before the NFL Combine workouts for a diluted urine sample, which would be considered a failed or positive drug test as far as the NFL’s drug testing policy is concerned. Mettenberger’s agents have said the diluted sample happened because the 6-foot-5, 225-pound quarterback had been cramping during his rushed rehabilitation after the surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament, so he was drinking a lot of water to avoid cramping.
Athletes have a history of trying to mask drugs in their system by drinking a lot of water before tests, however.
If Mettenberger falls into the third round on Friday, it could well be attributed to this late development. At any rate, those NFL teams interested in Mettenberger will have one more thing to consider over the next few days.
“The combine is basically the most important job interview of these players’ lives,” Frank Schwab of Yahoo Sports wrote after Fox Sports’ story broke. “It’s an understatement to say it’s a poor decision to do anything in the weeks leading up to the combine that would lead to a positive test. If you can’t be trusted to handle something that basic, how are you going to deal with the NFL life?”
NFL Draft analyst Mike Detillier disagrees with Schwab.
“Minor stuff for Zach,” Detillier told Gannett Louisiana on Tuesday afternoon. “I still think Mettenberger goes in round two. It’s a supply and demand question, and he has the skills to be a starting NFL quarterback.”
Former LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson had a straight failed drug test according to Fox Sports – not failed because of diluted urine. But Detillier does not see the positive test hurting Johnson either.
“Again, minor stuff,” he said. “Johnson still goes late third round or early fourth. He is a player with a lot of potential, but he never had super production.”
Neither Mettenberger nor Johnson were reported as having any positive drug tests while at LSU, and LSU tests more often and issues more random tests than do NFL teams, according to LSU associate athletic director Bo Bahnsen.
Before the test, Mettenberger was one of the major stories of the pre-draft as he clearly showed at Pro Day and during workouts for NFL teams how quickly he recovered from the knee injury.
“He’s back,” LSU coach Les Miles said at LSU’s Pro Day on April 9. “I think his knee is in the high 90 percentile. He will play in the NFL a long time. I will be surprised if he is not a very high draft pick. I think he is a guy who can play at a really high level in the NFL.”
LSU’s only projected pick for the first round Thursday night is wide receiver/kick returner Odell Beckham Jr., whom Detillier has going in the middle to late first round as the fifth receiver to be taken behind Sammy Watkins of Clemson, Mike Evans of Texas A&M, Marqise Lee of USC and Brandin Cooks of Oregon State.
“His body adjustment skills and leaping ability are huge plusses for him. He is a dangerous return man and can come up with game-changing plays,” Detillier said.
“It’s crazy,” Beckham said. “It’s something I’ve always dreamed of to go in the first round. For it to finally be here and to have that opportunity, I have to think the man above for getting me here.”
Other LSU players expected to go as high as the second or third round, according to Detillier, are wide receiver Jarvis Landry and tailback Jeremy Hill.
Former LSU players expected to go in the middle to late rounds by Detillier are defensive tackle Ego Ferguson, offensive guard Trai Turner, fullback J.C. Copeland, outside linebacker Lamin Barrow and safety Craig Loston. Tailback Alfred Blue and wide receiver Kadron Boone will likely go in the seventh and last round if drafted, Detillier said.
LSU set a school record last year when nine of its players were drafted. If Beckham, Mettenberger, Landry, Hill, Ferguson, Johnson, Turner, Copeland, Barrow and Loston are drafted, the total for this year would be 10.